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On going to the cinema alone 18, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Films.
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I’ll level with you wordpress blog. I’ve had a lot of issues. For a few years I was referred to various counselling services and even took part in group therapy for social anxiety issues. I was never the worst, I’ve had friends who had a rougher time than I did. However, I did go through phases when whatever was happening in my head almost paralysed me mentally. I was just going through the motions. Existing but not really feeling. All the usual stuff that is ridiculed by people who don’t understand. It’s very real and I won’t delve into it too deeply here.

After my group therapy sessions I continued seeing the therapist on an individual basis as I felt I wasn’t quite done yet. I recall in one of our sessions we got onto a fairly regular topic with me; how much I think everyone in public is looking at me, talking about me and laughing at me. I said I wished I could get to a point where I stopped caring so much. My therapist said that people often overcome such worries by doing something alone, such as going out for a meal. I asked if going to the cinema would count because during the film it’s dark and nobody really talks. I wasn’t sure if this broke the rules a little because nobody else was actively seeing you. He said that yes, of course it counts. Going to the cinema is seen as a social activity even though it’s decidedly anti-social once you’re in there. He told me to set a goal that at some point in the next year I’d go see a film alone. I graduated from university after that session so my contact with my therapist ended.

It took me a little bit longer than a year but I finally did it. I fancied going to see The Dark Knight for a second time (I went with my dad on opening night) and I didn’t know anyone who was available during the afternoon. I was writing up my masters thesis at the time so mornings were library time. I didn’t really have any buddies on my course who were into Batman. So I went alone.

It was fine. There were other people watching it on their own. Even better there were other women on their own!

I felt so liberated. I’d broken a social taboo that some people seem desperate to avoid to the point where they’ll look at you like you’ve sprouted a second head and slowly back away if you mention seeing a film alone. Some seem to break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of it. Just what is the problem? Other people will see you? They’ll make comments? Chances are that if they’re making comments, deep down they know they’re doing it because they’re too insecure to take the plunge themselves. I’m fine with people being insecure, I’m a fleshy bag of insecurity. But the ones who are nasty about it, I think they’re probably jealous they’re not as cool as you. You’ve gone to the cinema alone – you don’t give a shit!

I’ve been to the cinema alone a small handful of times since. I tend to go on my own when I want to watch a film for the second or third time. Yes, I’m one of those strange people who likes to watch a cinema release more than once sometimes. Since moving to Glasgow I got a Cineworld Unlimited card, so going to watch a film multiples of times has certainly become a lot cheaper now. And I know not everyone wants to see a film several times. Or they don’t want to go with someone who has already seen it because then they have to put up with you pulling a knowing “oh boy, THIS PART!” face when you know something good is about to happen. I try not to do that even at home with a DVD – but sorry, sometimes I just want to see how people react and I forget. I promise I won’t do it for every single joke or important plot point. In short, sometimes it really is better for everyone if you don’t bring a friend!

Yesterday I had a few hours to kill so I made good on my threat to go see The Avengers again. I wasn’t really in the mood for having to pay 100% attention so felt that going to see something completely new would be a bad idea. Seeing something I knew I’d enjoy was the sensible choice.

I arrived quite early (about 40 minutes early) so after swiping my card I just went to the level of my screen and waited on the benches outside. I played on my phone, listened to my iPod and read my book. You really don’t need other people so long as you’ve got things to do while you wait for the screen to be cleaned. I also got a chance to engage in a bit of people watching. Most customers ascending the escalator behind me were going to levels higher up. The Dictator is out at the moment so that’s probably the busiest film now. There were a couple of older ladies sitting nearby who I assumed were there to see some film I’ve never heard of but I was surprised to see them walking out of The Avengers at the same time as me. See, even I’m guilty of stereotyping. I hope that when I’m in my twilight years I’ll be cool enough to still go see a comic book film.

The staff let me into the actual screen with about 25 minutes to go. I decided to nip to the loo first. One of the downsides of solo cinema viewing is that there’s nobody to look after your stuff. I wasn’t going to take all my gear with me AFTER securing a seat because someone might steal it. I also didn’t want to leave my possessions unattended. So I made absolutely sure I’d got as much pee out of my system as humanly possible. I have quite an annoying bladder. It can go hours without needing to let go but then will hit phases of making me feel like a water balloon every half hour. It tends to pick these moments when I’ve not got easy access to a toilet, or don’t want to leave. Like at the cinema. I might miss something! So yes, now you know far too much about my bathroom habits…let’s move on.

The wait for the film is definitely the worst part about being on your own. Once the house lights go down you have to take that as a hint to actually switch off your phone, or in this case iPod. I was also trying not to munch on too many of the crispy M&Ms I’d foolishly bought. At the same time I was worrying about my bladder causing an inconvenience. I’d picked the staircase end of a row just in case.

Speaking of seating, for all my past worries about people noticing me I’ve realised that when you’re on your own at the cinema most people treat you like you’re not there. Obviously they won’t sit in your seat with you sitting on it! They know there’s a person present, but you’re just not on their radar otherwise. People chat among themselves, people pick seats from the ever dwindling supply. I ended up with a big group of hooded teenagers sitting next to me. The only thing that was uncomfortable was that one of the guys who was on the heftier side of things picked the seat next to me. It meant I did have to restrict myself to only two thirds of my own seat as his arm was hanging over into my territory. Being so politely English, I didn’t say anything.

I’m always amazed at people who roll up to the cinema and end up arriving into a screening when the trailers have started. The look at confusion on the faces of a group of nine is amazing. What did they expect? The reason the times are given as they are is because the company knows that most people will turn up early. It’s guaranteed a lot of people will be watching the adverts and trailers. I would never leave it later than 15 minutes before the start time because finding a good seat is a nightmare. Yet people still keep doing it. Worse still are the ones who arrive when the film has actually started. So you often suffer the indignity of an usher shining a light in your face while Mr and Mrs Late Arrival shuffle past you with their mountains of popcorn and drinks into the only two seats left that are to their liking. If I was running that late, I wouldn’t have bothered with the snacks.

I get that everyone isn’t as time conscious as me. Personally I’d just wait around for a later showing if I got stuck in traffic or didn’t get out of work on time. But that’s because I value having a good seat. It’s an important part of the viewing experience for me. That’s why I didn’t care about sitting on my own for almost the best part of an hour where everyone could see me. I knew the good seat would be worth it!

I think I notice late arrivals a lot less when I go to the cinema with company. I always notice them, but in this case I was focusing on them more. It might be because I got the exact same adverts and trailers as last time so was looking for something to cure my boredom and frustration. I just wanted the film to start! I guess thinking “well at least I’m not that late,” made me feel a little bit better about being a solo viewer. Any residual social anxiety melted away. They may have two other people with them, but they might all have to split up anyway. I chose to be here on my own! Ha!

The thing is, a few years ago I would’ve been one of those people who judged lone cinema goers as losers with no friends. I also thought that only blokes did it. I think I thought this way because it was the prevailing opinion of my friends. Once I grew up and realised there was nothing wrong with thinking differently, I realised that maybe people go to the cinema alone because they just like watching films. I do still love going to the cinema as an event with friends or my partner. It’s always nice to go out for a meal before or after the film, or discuss what you thought over a pint. But sometimes you just want to watch a film and forget all that fancy social stuff.

I was also terrified of being seen out in public doing something that might be considered unusual. If you had told younger me that I’d one day manage to go to the cinema alone I would’ve laughed in your face. It wouldn’t have been because I thought I was too cool for that. It would’ve been because I was genuinely terrified of being out in public too long. In my mind being without other people gets you noticed more. But it really doesn’t.

When I walk through Glasgow city centre on the way to and from work, I don’t really notice anyone else. Why would they notice me? Chances are that a lot of them don’t. Getting over the fear that everyone was staring was a huge task for me. Sometimes I have relapses but I can fight them. I’ve come a long way. And sometimes I’ll reward myself with a quick trip to the cinema…

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When fangirling goes x-rated. 15, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Fandom, Films.
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I said to myself I would try to keep fandom related musings off this blog. For some reason in my mind, fandom doesn’t equal serious. But why ever not? Am I embarrassed? Do I care what other people think? If I search deep within myself I realise, no, no I really don’t.

However, this post isn’t quite going to be along the lines of me telling you about my favourite things. Someone on a forum I visit daily said something today that has just stuck with me and created this post. We were in a thread discussing The Avengers. For fellow Brits, that’s the Marvel film not the British film/show. I don’t know why I refuse to call Marvel’s The Avengers by the release title over here (Avengers Assemble) – I think I might be a bit of a comic snob. But that’s another article…

Back to my forum conversation. One (male) poster expressed exasperation for what women find attractive. This was a response to me stating that I wouldn’t be surprised if in Thor 2, Loki’s involvement is toned down a little. He’s very much a target of misaimed fandom, albeit he’s a lot more sympathetic than characters like The Joker or even Draco Malfoy. Misaimed fandom is when a character who is meant to be a bad guy, even loathed, appears to stir something in the audience that wasn’t meant to be stirred. This can be anything from finding them more interesting than the hero even though the villain is clearly horrible (hello Joker) or it can simply be you sympathise with the villain because they have daddy issues (Loki). But the writers probably didn’t intend for you to sympathise so much you end up feeling sorry for the guy when he loses. Yet it happens time and time again.

However, because fandom at least on the Internet appears to be mostly driven by women, “stirring what wasn’t meant to be stirred” can go beyond simple character interest. It can take on a sexual element. There are women out there on the Internet right now going absolutely gaga over Loki in his Thor 2011/The Avengers form. I think a lot of it is also aimed at the actor, but Loki in particular is getting most of the attention. There’s nothing wrong with this. I always think that as long as you still know the line between reality and fantasy than a little indulgence in what you find attractive is fine. Some women (or inexperienced teenage girls mostly) take this a little too far, but again that’s another article.

Another (male) poster on this forum stated that he simply could not understand why pretty much everything Loki does in The Avengers has been turned into gifs/jpgs/anything else and posted several times all over the Internet. I’ve seen this view before, lamenting that such attention to detail is often accompanied by women straying into the realms of too much information about what said images make them feel. From “I’d hit that” to descriptions of what they want to put where, I’ve seen it all.

I have to say, I don’t really get it anymore. On the same forum I am sick to the back teeth of seeing Eric from True Blood for example because I don’t think he’s hot. He does nothing for me, I think he looks boring. Sorry Eric/Alexander, but you’re not short of a queue of women (and men) who find you attractive. Me bailing on you is no loss. Anyway, I don’t feel the need to look at endless photos of my famous crushes anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I’m in a relationship so felt I needed to put a lid on it…I don’t know.

But I haven’t exactly put a lid on it. I still look at other men and appreciate them, shall we say. I know my boyfriend does the same about other women. We’ve discussed it. We’ve both said we know we’re both human and our sexual desires can’t be redefined just because we found one another. We’re in a monogamous relationship but we’re not so clueless that we think monogamy should extend to our brains because even if you try not to, your brain will think it anyway. I said to him just the other night; I can look in the shop window but it doesn’t mean I want to touch. I’m happy with just the one man in reality but you can’t shut off the part of your mind that made you attracted to anyone who matches your preferences. Part of being in an adult relationship is accepting this and deciding where to go with it. We’ve picked monogamy, plenty of others don’t. That’s fine.

I feel like I’m straying off my point here. When I was younger I did obsessively consume images of my crush of the moment. By that I mean famous men. Real life crushes had the added bonus that you could probably look at them in reality quite regularly. Then again, my hormones were raging before Facebook existed so I imagine it’s different for teenage girls these days.

For whatever reason, I have less time for going overkill on the google search. But I do think the Loki fangirls have worn me down. Okay girls, I get it. There’s a vulnerability to that portrayal of him that seems to tap into something that some of us like. I think it’s the eyes. Definitely the eyes. They’re very expressive. I also think that because people keep posting photos of him where I can see them a part of my brain has been unlocked that hasn’t been opened since I was a teenage goth wannabe. 16-year-old me LOVED pale guys with dark hair and blue eyes. Loki’s actor doesn’t really seem to do anything for me when his hair is short blond and curly (sorry Tom) so yes, somewhere in there I am indulging my inner teenage goth who never really left. I just quietened her down a bit.

It’s a good thing too. Teenage to early twenties me could get quite explicit about what I wanted to do to fantasy guys and what I wanted them to do to me. It was a surprise to me at the time that I could feel that way. I’d basically grown up getting messages through school sex education that boys were the ones with the uncontrollable desire and I had to control it by not allowing them access to my sexuality. There’s a lot sex education gets right in spite of what people say. I do think it’s right to tell kids sex feels good and as long as all parties agree and it’s safe, then fill your boots. However, I don’t really remember anyone, even my really liberal mother, preparing me for the strength of my own sex drive and how to handle it. Even masturbation was a taboo activity if you were female. Boys were pretty open with the fact they did it and watched porn. I didn’t even think I could watch porn. So all that was available to me was the fantasies in my head…and if anyone asked if I touched myself, I denied it. I was lying of course.

All this has got me thinking that maybe all these young women who go crazy over the latest heart-throb (conventional or not) are just expressing their sexuality in the only way they know how. They might not even realise that’s what they’re doing. I’m a little upset when I see people calling all the women who do this obsessive and sad and pathetic. How is it any different to the men who no doubt are going on about Black Widow’s arse? I’ve heard plenty of men say some really explicit stuff about actresses and models and singers over the years but they seem to get a free pass. It’s acceptable because sexual banter is seen as blokey. It’s what men do. But if a woman does it, obviously she’s a stalker.

When I was little and first got into comic books and action films, I didn’t realise that they weren’t traditionally meant to be aimed at me. These were things that I watched and read with my dad. It was our daddy daughter bonding and that was it. As I got older I became aware that often female characters are very passive and seem to only be there for a few titty shots. Of course, this has been addressed and you do get female characters like Black Widow who actually contribute something to the plot with minimal arse shots. But I can remember people dismissing comic book films as something for teenage male virgins even less than a decade ago. I think the past decade or so has done a lot to market these films to women as well.

I think it started with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Personally I think the former is acceptable but flawed and the latter was terrible. Let’s just forget about the plot. One thing that always stands out when I watch those films is how much Batman’s casting was obviously influenced by the decision to choose an actor who got women all hot and bothered at the time. There’s even a few lingering bum/crotch shots when Batman is suiting up in those films. So on a very base level, that camera work was acknowledging that there might be women in the audience who want to look at sculptured bums. I was only around ten when Batman Forever was released so not quite old enough to notice this, or if I did I probably still thought men smell and are icky. And Batsuit nipples will always be stupid.

So then we get to The Avengers. I went to see it with my boyfriend last week and a couple of days ago I realised he had maybe only two attractive women to look at through the whole thing. I had almost the entire main cast. I don’t fancy all of them and obviously drooling over the cast wasn’t our main motivation for watching the film. We both like comic book films because we like comic books. But it was interesting for me to realise that there were certain things that the male cast did where it felt like they had women (and gay or bisexual men, let’s not forget them) in mind. Having grown up feeling like I was a weirdo for wanting to look at attractive men, it was a little strange if not welcome to see a film openly flaunting it. A film in a genre that wasn’t traditionally aimed at women as well! Naturally Black Widow in her tight catsuit was courting a certain section of the audience but it didn’t feel like she was the only one on show. It didn’t feel like she was just for show either! In fact, she was probably one of my favourite characters.

So let the women have their fun. Our sexuality can be as visual and as physical as a mans. I’m not saying that our sexualities are exactly the same but a woman, like a man, doesn’t have one setting. I know everyone likes to pretend that we do (and it’s “I need to feel loved before I feel sexual, can’t we just cuddle instead?”) but it’s bullshit. If women on the Internet want to post about how much gagged Loki made them tingle, or how fantastic was Captain America’s arse, or how hot Bruce Banner was in his human form – actually, I wouldn’t care if there’s a lady out there who likes his Hulk form – then just let them. Most of them know where the line is and won’t cross it. They’re not any more or less pathetic than you for saying “did you see the tits on THAT” And if you’re still uncomfortable being in the cinema with a bunch of women indulging their sexual fantasies, well then, unless they’re actually masturbating in there…get over it.